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Ed Waffle

Knowing when to quit

31 posts in this topic

Reading these threads has reminded me that I was so fortunate to be at Merrill Ashley's first performance of Ballo at SPAC. It was a sold-out matinee on a brutally hot day and I was working in the upper corner of the theater, trying to get everyone seated, when the ballet began. I have never seen such fire and flash as I saw that day.

I also saw Merrill's last performance of Ballo at SPAC, and it was the last time I saw her dance too--at the gala in 1997? (I could be off by a year or so), and I am sorry I did. Yes I see Lilian's point and it is well-taken. I admired her so much for giving her gift to the audience one last time. But that performance is not the one that I choose to focus on when I think about her. It hurt me to see her hurting.

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Thank you very much, Calliope, for the quote from Helene. She has always struck me as a dancer with a very realistic sense of how she is perceived, from Balanchine's insistence on calling her "the little Hawaiian girl" [she is, of course, of Greek ancestry] to her explanation in an interview (which I can't track down) that her promotion to Principal was delayed several years by Balanchine's death, since the company had more important things to worry about. She also took two years off to have a child -- a move few dancers would have considered when she first came on the scene. I'm sorry that other obligations kept me from her farewell Saturday night. I applaud in absentia.

As for other stars who have overstayed their welcome, Nureyev was clearly a disaster (a rocket transformed into a marshmallow), Watts was on and off (throughout her career, at least in my experience), and Ashley was always dependable, at Lord knows what cost in pain.

Then there was Makarova, who insisted on doing too many Swan Lakes. She had the technique and the style to sell the White pas de deux, but the Black requires those 36 fouettes, well beyond her endurance quotient. So she simply entered three measures late (a minor trial for the audience), performed 24 fouettes (albeit a bit sloppily), ended on the music, and got an ovation. No wonder some fans chant the count out loud.

Still and all, absent gross physical problems (like Farrell or Villella), it's really hard to make a decision, especially for men and women who have devoted their lives, from early adolescence, to dance. Ashley and Makarova had the advantage of husbands outside the dance world (the former is married to a UN interpreter, the latter to an international lawyer).

Less celebrated dancers are doing well, too. Delia Peters, who pursued a law degree in her off hours from the NYCB corps, is today a successful entertaiment lawyer. Carole Divet, once a featured member of the NYCB crops, has proved her skill as a costume designer.

And this is only the beginning. I hear that the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle even offers its dancers courses in "what to do next."

There's no easy way, buy surely we can spare 40-something dancers the necessity of making fools of themselves to pay the rent.

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AGMA, bless them, led the way with their Dancer Career Transition program. Many similar programs are offered now, even by management, as a sort of benevolent outplacement service.

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If a dancer, such as Makarova, can no longer do the 36 fouettes as the Black Swan, does that mean she should no longer dance it at all? Is it always an all or nothing situation in ballet?

I just experienced "star power" this past weekend while watching Valentina Kozlova (retired NYCB '95, now in mid forties) perform Odette/Odile and she still was able to leave us asking for more. This time she did not, however, make it to 36...but I still basked in every minute.

I have also seen her perform several contemporary pieces by Margo Sappington and have found myself close to tears for her beauty, sensuality and ability to transport an audience to another plane.

If a ballet dancer, for example, can no longer handle 36 fouettes is it time to put the swan's crown away for good and go with other ballets that don't have mandatory feets of stamina like this? From my point of view, I could have cared less if there were 36, 32 or 28! Ms. Kozlova still knocked my socks off. :(

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BW, I agree. I don't care if they do something else instead of fouettes, either (which I think some dancers have done). It's a trick, and not really the point of Swan Lake, or even of Odile.

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First of all, I disagree about the 32 (not 36) fouettes importance. It is obvious in the choreorgraphy that those turns are the point at which he is convinced by Odile. I don't necessarily agree that 32 is a magic number. Many wonderful dancers (such as Julie Kent and Wendy Whelan) only do 28. The effect is still there and that is what is important.

Back to the original subject about dancers who waited too long to retire, I agree about Merrill Ashley waiting too long. I saw her final performance at SPAC, and saw her limp out of the theater, something she wouldn't have been able to do without her husband's help. I think if she had retired a few years earlier, no one would have thought any less of her and would still have glorified her long, magnificent career. For example, I was devastated to hear of Helene Alexopoulos' retirement. I think she danced beautifully the last time I saw her on stage (one week before retiring) and believe she could have stuck it out for a little longer. Then I remembered she'd been in the company for well over 20 years- hard for me to imagine because that's longer than I've been alive. I have tremendous respect for her because she knew when to quit. I certainly don't think any less of her because as far as I know, she can still walk.

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